Colleges involved in international work raise an average of £800,000 per institution annually, a major new report from the Association of Colleges (AoC) has shown. The survey of around 90 colleges – including the majority of institutions known to be active internationally – showed over two-thirds were actively engaged in international work, and that the international market was worth £57 million to them alone.
But 28 per cent of those surveyed had dropped out of international provision in the past five years.
Colleges engaged with learners from China the most, followed by Italy, Germany, Spain and France.
Emma Meredith, the AoC’s international director, said that while for some colleges international work was “a commercial venture – for example, through international student recruitment or the provision of technical training to overseas partners”, for others, it was “about engaging students and staff in exchange projects”. The most popular type of operation was the recruitment of international learners to study in the UK.
Other activities included Erasmus+ – the EU-funded programme that offers students the opportunity to study or work in other European countries – as well as delivering training for overseas governments, consultancy work, online training and operating campuses overseas.
The institution with the biggest overseas presence was Lincoln College Group, with a total of 4,500 students: 3,500 based across two colleges in Saudi Arabia, and 1,000 across two colleges in China.
A college spokesperson said that these projects provided “additional income streams for investment in its UK-based colleges in Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire”, as well as a platform for “cross-fertilisation of education and training capacity and capability”. The spokesperson added: “Increasingly, technology is facilitating active shared learning. One example of this is a current trial linking Microsoft Showcase classrooms between Lincoln and Riyadh, so engineering lecturers and students can interact and learn together.”
On average, internationally active colleges enrolled 121 non-EU students a year in the UK, many on short-term study visas, with English language the most popular subject.
“Over the last five to eight years, many colleges have had to adjust their international strategies away from a primary focus on international student recruitment,” said Ms Meredith. “They’ve had to adapt quickly to changing UK government policy on student visas and how college inspection grades in England are linked to student visa sponsorship licences.”
Market under threat
Of the countries that UK colleges engaged with, China was far and away the most popular. “The Chinese still believe the UK is an attractive place to study,” said Shelagh Legrave, principal of Chichester College. As well as teaching Chinese students in West Sussex, the college is also starting a new partnership that will that will, for example, allow Chinese students to access online culinary skills workshops, filmed and recorded at Chichester College and streamed to students in Tianjin.
Behind China, it is EU countries that have attracted the most colleges – a market that could be under threat as the UK approaches Brexit.
“The first hurdle to overcome is any perception that the Brexit vote means the country is closed for business, and that we don’t want people from other countries to come here,” said Ms Meredith. “The EU is so important to college international work, first through participation in the Erasmus+ mobility programme and secondly because of EU nationals who choose to study here.”
It is not yet clear whether the UK will be involved in Erasmus+ beyond 2020.
In July, Tes revealed the formation of the UK Skills Partnership – an alliance of organisations to build a coherent package of technical and vocational education and training for the export market.
This is an edited version of an article in the 12 January edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. Tes magazine is available at all good newsagents